Guildford Borough Council has pleaded to be allowed to change constraints on its housing targets in a move which it claimed could help protect the green belt from development.
The local authority is currently bounded by guidance from Westminster that states it must deal with its housing backlog within the first five years of adopting a new local plan.
The leader of the council, Stephen Mansbridge, has now written to the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, asking for the shortfall to be met over the full period of the plan, which would be until 2031.
Last year, Cllr Mansbridge said the local plan would be reassessed and redrafted after May’s elections, in the face of strong opposition and protests over the document’s proposals to remove green belt status from some areas of land.
The delay also came in light of Mr Pickles releasing new guidance which said that green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional cases.
“One of our greatest challenges in preparing our draft local plan has been to accommodate the accrued backlog of housing since the start of our plan period in the first five years of the plan, as directed by planning practice guidance,” Cllr Mansbridge said.
“However, we are aware that some inspectors are taking a different approach based on local circumstances, such as at Gravesham Borough Council, where the backlog was apportioned over the whole plan period.
“If we could justify such a consistent approach in Guildford borough, this would enable us to phase our development sites more appropriately, including brownfield sites that have a longer lead-in time, and thereby potentially minimising the reliance on green belt sites.
“This also allows time to address the current deficits in infrastructure and plan properly for any potential future development.
“Reducing the scale of the immediate five-year housing land supply requirement could also potentially minimise the risk of ‘planning by appeal’ rather than through the democratic process.”
Last week, plans were formally submitted for more than 2,000 homes on the former Wisley airfield site, also known as Three Farms Meadows, ahead of the adoption of the local plan.
As part of the response to the draft local plan, the University of Surrey has also unveiled more details on its proposed development for more than 3,000 homes next to its Manor Park campus.
At the end of last year, a document setting out how many houses could be built each year in Guildford – the draft West Surrey Strategic Housing Market Assessment – stated a figure of 620 to 816 new properties.
“We have something of a perfect storm – Guildford is a vibrant retail and business centre with full occupancy and very few vacant sites,” Cllr Mansbridge said.
“At the same time, the housing need has grown substantially.
“The government is also placing greater emphasis on the need for our local plan to align with the growth agenda set out by our Local Enterprise Partnership, Enterprise M3.
“It is simply not possible to meet the full backlog arising from the increased housing number in the first five years – other than by releasing green belt land, which could irrevocably damage Guildford’s character.
“Therefore we are asking the secretary of state to make representations jointly to ministers to permit Guildford’s housing shortfall to be met over the full period of the plan.
“If we can frame a delivery trajectory over the full plan period, we can produce a better plan with less impact on the urban and town environments, and on the green belt.”